Theatre review

The Threepenny Opera at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

If you head down to the lovely West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Especially if you’re a fan of Bertolt Brecht. Today I watched their latest production in conjunction with Graeae: Brecht & Weill’s ‘Threepenny Opera’.


Before the show (originally a 1928 proto-musical) began, some of the cast were on stage, singing, dancing and asking people to sign their petition against cuts to the Disability Living Allowance. I wasn’t completely comfortable with this, although I do support the cause. It was, however, very much in keeping with what was to come.

Graeae are a ground breaking company who combine both disabled and able bodies actors, and the end results, as in this case, can be stunning. You soon forget that one actor is in a wheelchair, or that another is deaf, as you become carried away by the great performances.

Onto the show itself. It opens with the most famous aspect of the ‘opera’, Kurt Weill’s sublime song ‘Mack The Knife’. The lyrics throughout were modified to give it a more modern setting, including references to ‘King Charles III’, Jimmy Saville, David Cameron and more. Theatre companies who dabble with modernisation are dicing with death, but Graeae pulled it off with aplomb. And, after all, the 1928 original was itself an update of John Gay’s 1728 offering, ‘The Beggar’s Opera’.

The music was brilliant, but it’s hard to go wrong with such a fantastic score. The singing also was uniformly excellent, the best that I’ve heard in the WYP. Special mention must go to two cast members.

Firstly, John Kelly as the narrator. Loud, brash and funny, he had more than a touch of Ian Dury in a wheelchair about him. He interacted fantastically with the cast and the audience, and ensured that a good time was had by all.

The standout performance was Cici Howells as Polly Peachum. By turns sweet, naive and menacing, she had a real pizzazz on the stage, not to mention a sex appeal that could get any flick-knife murderer hot under the collar. And what a voice. Cici made the part her own, and I look forward to seeing her in future productions.

Milton Lopes, in the lead role of Macheath, did a good job. Whilst not the tallest actor, he really did achieve the necessary sense of malovence and impending violence.

Be warned, there is a lot of adult content and strong language. It’s not one for young children or Daily Mail readers. But it is riotously enjoyable, I even enjoyed the bizarre re-writing of the end. I won’t give it away, the phantom reviewer doesn’t do spoilers.

It was life-affirmingly good. For a show about a black hearted villain it was jam packed full of fun. I heartily recommend you see it, not only to see the placard reading: ‘Charles smells of poo.’ It runs until 10th May, and I enjoyed it so much that I may well go and see it again.

Well done West Yorkshire Playhouse, well done Graeae, and well done Brecht & Weill. Your genius lives on, and earns this production a well deserved 5 Phantoms rating.